The close season is hard enough. People’s Saturday afternoons for the next two months stretch in front of them like massive vacuums in the space/time continuum. Now what? And what about Tuesday evenings? What then?
Some in our number are fortunate enough to enjoy cricket, a soothing balm for the sportless months ahead. Personally, I can’t get on board with cricket. Never tried to, maybe, but any sport that can go on for three days or more and still end in a draw, or is decided by a mathematical calculation because of rain isn’t immediate enough for me. We’ve all, I’m sure, spent a bit of time watching the Women’s World Cup, some will be invested in England’s progress there. Some may have briefly been engaged with England u-21’s short stay in Italy also. I’ve watched these competitions a little, but there’s really no substitute for club football.
As most will now know, I also follow Liverpool FC very closely, so am still on the crest of the wave of our 6th (SIXTH) European Cup win. What’s also enjoyable about that sort of success, and what helps keeps interest buoyed for the summer, is what that success might mean for the make-up of the squad. Surely the European Cup (and a 97 point domestic season) is proof positive to elite footballers around the world that Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool are an attractive proposition...? Surely all those players linked with leaving their current sides are hoping that Liverpool make contact? I’m talking Bruno Fernandes of Portugal, young de Ligt at Ajax, maybe Timo Werner or that Pepe lad who plays in France... all players who could reasonably augment the Liverpool squad and none, at the time of writing, are anywhere close to being linked. How terribly boring.
Closer to home, however, the transfers have been coming thick and fast. More thick, in some instances. We were all quite surprised when Frank Wilson was given the top job at Merstham, especially given his previous stint at that level was with Tooting a couple of seasons ago, and it was more or less an absolute disaster. The surprise was compounded soon after when Wilson started to lift the phone to Tooting players and invite them to ply their trade under his tutelage again, at a division above. Peter Wedgeworth, Simmo and Eddie Dines were quickly recruited and, speaking for myself, I had a bit of a wobble. Half of our back four that had performed so well last season, and Mr Reliable Eddie Dines.
These players went quickly- and the announcements came soon after we learned that Danny Bassett had taken a great opportunity to play at a higher level, Ethan Wady had returned to Chelsea, and Stef Ilic had got impatient and left.
Looking at it, we’d lost 3 of our back 5, one of the stalwarts of our midfield (although Eddie wasn’t playing much) and one of our most consistent goal scorers. We’d lost Isaiah too, Sam Folarin and Abraham Odoh, albeit to league football where you’ve no chance to retain them. There’d been no word of additions. Then, of course, my mind went into overdrive- if we’d lost Wedgie, Simmo and Danny to higher levels, there was no reason why clubs above us wouldn’t come in for DMG, Saidou, Hady, Lexus, AJ... we have a lot of really talented young players who must fancy their chances at a higher level at some point, particularly when they see their team mates going up a level, or more.
In the absence of information, my default is to think the worst. “Everyone is leaving and we’re not signing anyone.” Last season, the management brought a lot of the under-23 squad through to the first team- a policy that has undoubtedly borne fruit- but it took a little while for our form to catch while the younger lads got used to first team football. It worried me- and a few others- that this coming season would be more of the same. That the first two or three months of the season would be given over to transitioning lads into the first team. That our promotion/playoff hopes might be overly reliant on our form in the second half of the season.
Wobbling is natural, I think, the product of an over-active mind in a dearth of information. Tooting deserve great credit for recognising that the fans had taken the silence from within the club as a sign that more bad news was to come. When they caught wind of the fans’ concerns, they were quick to let us know it was not all doom and gloom- DMG, Lexus and Hady, amongst others, were all staying. New signings were announced- a new ‘keeper, two new defenders, a left back, an attacking mid and a striker. All players with experience at this level, and above in some cases. Addressing the issues we had in the first team.
And so the wobbles are re-set. Of course, I’m sure we’d all rather have kept the likes of Wedgie and Danny Bassett, and undoubtedly we’d all love to have seen Isaiah pull on the stripes for another season- but can we deny these lads the opportunity to play at a higher level, to maybe make a few extra quid...? I think probably not. But as long as the fans feel that gaps are filled in the squad, I feel we have cause for optimism. The additions seem solid, we’ve retained the services of the spine of a strong side (Lexus, Sol, DMG, Daryl, Saidou, Hady) and the management who acquitted themselves so brilliantly in their debut season are still at the helm.
Also, and this is important, fans of other clubs at our level are looking at the set-up and are full of praise. Moving three youngsters from one generation of players into league football in a single summer reflects fantastically on the club and management. It must also make young lads sit up and take notice that TMUFC might just be the place to develop them and, hopefully, guide them up the football pyramid. I personally am proud that the club is able to help young men with their careers, as well as please those fans on the terraces.
This holistic approach is to be praised, even in the midst of the wobbles. I’ve learned that non-league football isn’t like watching the Reds. There aren’t many on contracts, there are no huge salaries paid, no huge transfer fees paid or recouped. There’s loyalty, of course, but in the short careers these young men have, they owe it to themselves to seek to play at the highest level they possibly can. It’s great that the club and the fans can support that and, possibly, be willing to welcome players back with open arms.
I feel optimistic for the season ahead. Certainly more than I would if I was a Merstham fan.... FW’s scouting network is only what’s on his facebook after all.